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It seems then to have been an enterprize requiring means beyond those in the command of Congress ; and the strength exhausted on it would have been more judiciously employed in preparing to secure the command of the lakes, and the fortified towns upon them.
CHAP. VI. CHAPTER VI.
TRANSACTIONS IN VIRGINIA — ACTION AT THE GREAT BRIDGE
- NORFOLK EVACUATED AND BURNED— TRANSACTIONS OF
W HILST the war was carried on thus vigorously in the CHAP. VI. north, the southern colonies were not entirely un- 1775.
July. employed. The Convention, which met at Richmond, in Transactions in
Virginia. Virginia, proceeded to put the colony in a posture of defence. It was determined to raise two regiments of regular troops for one year; and to enlist a part of the militia as minute-men, who should encamp by regiments, for a certain number of days in the spring and fall, for the purpose of training, and should at all times be ready to march at a minute's warning to any part of the colony, for its defence.
Lord Dunmore, who was joined by such of his friends as had become too obnoxious to the people, in general, to be permitted to reside in safety among them, and by a number of slaves, whom he encouraged to run away from their masters, and whom he furnished with arms, was collecting, under cover of the ships of war on that station, a considerable naval force, which threatened to be extremely trouVOL. II.
CHAP. VI. blesome in a country so intersected with large navigable
rivers as the colony of Virginia. With this force, he carried on a small predatory war, and, at length, attempted to burn the town of Hampton. The inhabitants having received some intimation of this design, gave notice of it to the commanding officer at Williamsburg, where some regulars and minute-men were stationed; two companies of whom were detached to their assistance. Having marched all night, they reached the town in the morning, just as the ships had begun to cannonade it. This reinforcement throwing themselves into the houses near the water, and firing from thence with their small arms into the vessels, soon obliged them to retreat precipitately from their stations, with the loss of a few men, and a tender, which was captured.
In consequence of this repulse, his Lordship proclaimed martial law, and summoned all persons, capable of bearing arms, to repair to the royal standard, or be considered as traitors; and offered freedom to all indented servants and slaves who would join him. This proclamation made some impression about Norfolk; and the governor collected such a force of the disaffected and negros, as gave him an intire ascendency in that part of the colony. A body of militia, assembled to oppose him, were easily dispersed, and he flattered himself that he should soon bring the lower country to submit to the royal authority.
Intelligence of these transactions being received at Williainsburg, a regiment of regulars, and about two hundred
minute-men, were ordered down, under the command of CHAP. VI, Colonel Woodford, for the defence of the inhabitants. 1775. Hearing of their approach, Lord Dunmore took a very judicious position, on the north side of Elizabeth River, at the Great Bridge, where it was necessary for the provincials to cross, in order to reach Norfolk, at which place he had established himself in some force. Here he erected a small fort, on a piece of firm ground, surrounded by a marsh, which was only accessible on either side by a long causeway. The American troops took post within cannon-shot of the enemy, in a small village at the south end of the causeway, across which, just at its termination, they constructed a breast-work; but, being without artillery, were unable to make any attempt on the fort.
In this position both parties continued for a few days, Action at the when Lord Dunmore, participating probably in that contempt for the Americans which had been so freely expressed in the House of Commons, ordered Captain Fordyce, the commanding officer at the Great Bridge, though inferior in numbers, to storm the works of the provincials. Between daybreak and sunrise, this officer, at the head of about sixty grenadiers of the 14th regiment, who led the column of the enemy, advanced on the causeway with fixed bayonets against the breast-work. The alarm was immediately given; and, as is the practice with raw troops, the bravest of the Americans rushed to the works, where, unmindful of order, they kept up a tremendous fire on the front of the British column. Captain Fordyce, though received so warmly in the front, and taken in fank by a small body of men, who
3 B 2
CHAP. VI. were collected by Colonel Stevens, of the minute-battalion,
and posted on an eminence something more than one hundred yards to the left, marched up, under this terrible fire, with great intrepidity, till he fell dead within a few steps of the breast-work. The column immediately broke, but the British troops, being covered in their retreat by the artillery of the fort, were not pursued.
Norfolk evacuated and burned.
In this ill-judged attack, every grenadier is said to have been killed or wounded, while the Americans did not lose a single man. The next night the fort was evacuated. The provincial troops proceeded to Norfolk, and Lord Dunmore found it necessary to take refuge on board his vessels. He was followed by the most offensive of the disaffected, with their families.
After taking possession of the town, the American soldiers frequently amused themselves by firing into the ves. sels in the harbour, from the buildings near the water. Irritated by this, or some other cause, it was determined to destroy the houses immediately on the shore; and, on the night of the 1st of January, a heavy cannonade was commenced, under cover of which a body of the enemy landed, and set fire to a number of houses near the river.
A strong prejudice had been entertained, among the provincial troops, against this station. It was believed to be a very dangerous one, from which, if the enemy should be reinforced, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to escape; and they saw, with great composure, the flames